After Wright State baseball coach Jeff Mercer learned during Monday’s selection show that his team would be flying across the country to play Stanford in the NCAA tournament, he admitted he didn’t know anything about the Cardinal beyond the fact they were really good as the No. 2 overall seed.
But Mercer also allowed that has a pretty big question regarding his own team, as in who to hand the ball to in Friday’s 10 p.m. opener.
Junior right-hander Ryan Weiss is a first team All-Horizon League selection who has been the staff ace all season, but he pitched twice during the conference tournament last weekend.
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Sophomore right-hander Caleb Sampen, the 2016 HL Freshman of the Year, is unbeaten in six starts since returning the rotation after missing all of 2017 due to injury.
“Realistically it’s not a lock because (Weiss) throwing Friday would be on short rest with him throwing twice last weekend,” Mercer said. “If he doesn’t throw the opening game, it will have nothing to do with trying to throw on or off or whatever. It really will just be a determination of if it’s the right thing to do for his health.”
Weiss threw four innings and 58 pitches in the first game of the HL tournament before Mercer pulled him with an 8-1 lead to save him for a possible championship game appearance. That plan came to fruition when Weiss nailed down the 11-9 victory against UIC in the championship game with a perfect ninth inning on 10 pitches Saturday.
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Sampen threw seven shutout innings on 82 pitches in Friday’s 10-1 winners bracket final triumph against UIC.
“Caleb Sampen is going to be on full rest and obviously is terrifically talented and capable of beating anybody in the country,” Mercer added. “Those guys are 1A and 1B and are very similar pitchers. They’ll be able to beat anybody, either one of them.”
Here are five more things to know about Wright State’s ninth trip to the NCAA tournament as a Division I program and third in four seasons.
This marks the first time in school history that both the basketball team and baseball team have qualified for the NCAA tournament in the same season.
Basketball coach Scott Nagy and several assistants attended Monday’s watch party as a show of support for Mercer and the Raiders.
According to athletic director Bob Grant, WSU is one of seven schools from a non-Power 5 conference to send both the men’s basketball and baseball teams to the NCAA tournament this season.
Wright State most likely will face one of the Beck brothers Friday night in the regional opener.
Tristan Beck is a junior right-hander who has reclaimed his role atop the rotation after missing all of last year with a stress fracture in his lower back. Despite the injury, he was drafted in the 29th round by the Yankees but elected to return to Stanford.
He is 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 84.1 innings.
Freshman right-hander Brendan Beck has the best stats of any starter on the team. He’s 6-0 with one save and a 2.44 ERA. His strikeout rate is much lower than Tristan’s with 37 in 59 innings.
A third option for the Cardinal would be Junior lefty Kris Bubic, who is 8-1 with a 2.73 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 79 innings.
Those three arms a big reason why Stanford ranks second of 297 Division I schools with a team ERA of 2.85.
Records in reach
Horizon League Player of the Year Gabe Snyder already owns the WSU career records for home runs (44), RBIs (217), doubles (62), starts (233), games played (235) and at-bats (879), but he has a chance to set a few single-season marks this weekend as well.
With 15 home runs, Snyder needs one to tie Nick Shields (2001) and Bryan Vickers (2004). Snyder is three shy of breaking the RBI record of 74 first set by Mark Frankeberg (1989) and later matched by current coach Jeff Mercer (2009).
Snyder also is tied with Mercer for second in total bases with 145. He needs four more to pass Ross Oeder’s record of 148 set in 2007.
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JD Orr’s 34 stolen bases are two shy of the record teammate Zach Weatherford set in 2017.
Matt Morrow set the single-season sacrifice fly record with eight last year and needs one more to become the school’s career leader with 15. He’s currently tied with Dan Biedenham (2004-07).
What was supposed to be a transition year for Stanford has turned into one of the most successful seasons in school history under the direction of a new coach.
When Mark Marquess retired after 41 seasons last June, the program turned to Stanford grad David Esquer, a former walk on who led the Cardinal to a national championship in 1987 as the starting shortstop and a member of the all-tournament team at the College World Series.
Esquer spent the previous 18 seasons at California, where he posted a 525-476-2 record and was the 2011 national Coach of the Year.
Taking a team with just one returning starter from a 42-16 season in 2017, Esquer led Stanford to its first Pac-12 tournament championship since 2004 and a No. 2 overall seed for the NCAA tournament.
If No. 4 seed Wright State upsets No. 1 Stanford, the Raiders will advance to play at 11 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Friday’s first game between No. 2 Baylor and No. 3 Cal State Fullerton.
If WSU falls to the Cardinal, it will play at 6 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game against the Baylor-CSU Fullerton loser.